Death Psalm: O Lord of Mysteries

Levertov, Denise

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Mar-05-2002
  • Last revised: Aug-17-2006


Levertov structures this poem in many ways like a Biblical psalm: repetition, irregular rhythms, direct address. The poem is also reminiscent of a Catholic litany in which saints are invoked in repetitive phrases. It moves forward by piling particularity upon particularity. The movement of the first part of the poem corresponds to the process of aging, preparing to die, letting go of the world, a natural flow or rhythm. However, this natural process is aborted: "She did not die."

The second part of the poem invokes the unnatural state in which she "lies half-speechless, incontinent, / aching in body, wandering in mind . . ." and describes the tubes and sores. "She is not whole." While the psalmist praises "O Lord of mysteries" for the beauty of sudden death, she cries "how baffling, how clueless / is laggard death . . . ." Death "that steals / insignificant patches of flesh" is a mystery.


Is the poet praising the "Lord of mysteries" for this particular mystery? Is she, like Job, praising and affirming the Transcendent, even though what she experiences is unjust and incomprehensible?

Primary Source

Life in the Forest


New Directions

Place Published

New York